Risks of the paperless office – lower productivity and fatigued workers!

Ian Lifshitz.

Here, Ian Lifshitz, Vice President of Sustainability & Stakeholder Relations at Asia Pulp & Paper Canada, gives an entirely different – and very compelling – scenario of the rush to achieve today’s modern “paperless office.”

The issues surrounding the dangers of too much time in front of a computer screen have become a topic that’s rarely out of the headlines these days. Earlier this year, University College London and the BMJ Open Medical Journal reviewed evidence that showed while there’s little proof that computer screen use can be described as ‘toxic’ to our health, there are indeed clear associations between higher screen use and both obesity and depression. What’s also becoming clearer is that, in the quest for improved efficiency, businesses have become obsessed with the benefits of new technology – but have failed to understand that employee well-being must also be part of the productivity puzzle.

“Cemented” in front of your computer. Furthermore, research by Deloitte discovered that workplaces designed towards an “always on” culture have had a detrimental impact on employee efficiency. It seems that technology has eliminated the need for natural breaks during the workday, compromising our ability to maintain attention. Plus, the devices we interact with are so focused on prompting us into action, that they become highly addictive. As a result, say the experts, the constant interruptions caused by notifications spur us to work more quickly and switch tasks rapidly – while we actually become less efficient due to the constant distractions.

There’s now substantial evidence that taking regular breaks not only improves productivity, but results in health benefits as well. In the United Kingdom, the international healthcare group BUPA recommends regularly moving away from your computer to avoid “Computer Vision Syndrome.” Just to give you an idea of the prevalence of the problem, the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that Computer Vision Syndrome affects about 90% of the people who spend three hours or more a day in front of a computer.

Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is strain on the eyes that occurs when you use a computer or digital device for prolonged periods of time. Anyone who has spent a few hours using their computer has probably felt some of the effects of this prolonged use. There are a number of factors that determine the amount of strain your body feels as you work on a computer or other digital device – including lighting in the room, distance from the screen, glare on the screen, seating posture, and the angle of your head – not to mention any existing vision problems you may already have. One or all of these may combine to cause an uncomfortable amount of strain on your eyes – as well as headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes and neck & shoulder pain.

The best option lies in balance. Technology has transformed and improved our lives, but traditional forms of working can still be helpful in the workplace. For example, researchers in England found that pen and paper encourages creativity in children due to the physical movements involved in writing by hand. The study also found that college students who took notes in lectures via handwriting, could recall more about the lecture than those that took notes on their laptops. It follows that a more “balanced workplace” benefits both employees and businesses.

The sustainability challenge. Today, all businesses are challenging themselves to be more efficient – and that includes sustainability. They want paper products that fit into the culture of “less waste is smart.” Significant innovations in the recyclability of paper products have started to address this need. Of course, it’s also important for paper manufacturers to consider the impact of production, as well as the sustainability of the end product. APP’s Sustainability Roadmap Vision 2020, which sets out ambitious targets to improve forest conservation, has generated significant innovations since it was launched in 2012. The vision is underpinned by 10 key pillars – climate change, emissions, solid waste, reforestation, conservation & biodiversity, human rights & indigenous people, community empowerment, employee welfare, fibre sourcing and water management.

In the past 7 years, APP has worked with stakeholders, including Greenpeace and the Rainforest Alliance, to improve the various programs in place and to monitor progress against these goals. During this same period, technology has fundamentally changed APP not only in the workplace but also in paper sourcing and production. It’s now possible to work anywhere and be available 24/7. This has allowed us to be more in tune with the needs of those working in the office sector to develop better products. For example, our Enlivo range was specially designed to fulfill writing and creative needs, whereas Inspira offers a range of professional stationery and notebooks that appeal to the senses in terms of look and touch. In Canada, photocopy paper remains the largest selling product from APP, suggesting that most employees are still not comfortable with a paperless office.

Creating smarter offices. As demand for these products grows because of their design and sustainability, we have to ask ourselves if there’s any truth to reports that paper in the workplace will disappear? Well, it’s obvious there are instances when paper use in the workplace can be highly beneficial. That includes the printing of important or long documents and the notebooks used in meetings – because both help our creativity and our productivity. The challenge for all businesses is finding the balance between a tech-enabled workforce and employees that are healthy, creative, energetic and productive. To do so, it may be necessary to utilize products that are both innovative and sustainable – while at the same time enabling us to maintain traditional workplace values.

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.